Extend Your Vacation Using Stopovers & Open Jaws

Jan 18, 2018

When it comes to redeeming points and miles for travel, free flights are the dream -- but they're not always achievable. Luckily, there's a trick that can add free, one-way reward flights to your roundtrip itinerary: stopovers and open jaws.

While booking stopovers and open jaws can be complicated, it’s totally worth it for people looking to stretch their travel miles as much as possible.

What are stopovers and open jaws?

Stopovers are like really long layovers. Whereas a layover typically lasts a few hours, stopovers generally give you enough time to explore the city you've stopped in. Stopovers can last anywhere from 1.5 days to a week or more.

Icelandair, for example, lets you add a free stopover in Iceland (for up to seven nights) on your way between select U.S. and European airports.


With some airlines, you can even use stopovers to add an extra leg to your itinerary for free.

American Airlines, for example, allows free stopovers on international award flights – as long as you make that stopover in a North American gateway city. That sounds pretty complicated, but it’s actually fairly straightforward. Basically, if your final destination is your home city in North America, you can add on a second destination—using your home city as a stopover. Here’s the great part: that second leg—from your home city to your new destination—can take off up to a year after you land back home. So if you want, you can take a trip, fly back home (but book it as a stopover) and then resume your ticket up to a year later to visit another destination. Of course, you’ll have to buy a one-way ticket back home at the end of that trip.

Here are some examples:

  • Depart from New York to Paris; return from Paris to New York (as a stopover) on your way to Los Angeles
  • Depart from Chicago to London; return from London to Chicago (as a stopover) on your way to Honolulu
  • Depart from New York to Rome; return from Rome to New York (as a stopover) on your way to Anchorage

In those examples, you could treat your return to New York or Chicago as a year-long stopover on your way to another North American destination.

Open jaws allow you to see more than one destination without having to pay extra. Here are a few examples of how open jaws can work, using sample itineraries:

  • Depart from New York to Paris; return from Madrid to New York: In this case, you arrive in one city but return from a second. You'll have to get from Paris to Madrid on your own, but you can give yourself plenty of time to take in the sights between the two cities.
  • Depart from New York to Paris; return from Paris to Boston: With open jaws, you don't have to return to the city from which you left. You could visit family in New York, fly overseas and return directly to your home in Boston.
  • Depart from New York to Paris; return from Madrid to Boston: Technically, this is a double open jaw itinerary -- something not all airlines will allow on award flights. Still, if you're determined to see as much as possible without paying for extra flights, it's worth looking into. Pretty crazy, right? And the best part: All your flights are on one itinerary.

Open jaws vs. one-way flights

Why go through the trouble to book an open jaw instead of building the same itinerary with one-way flights?

  1. More security: If you book two one-way flights on separate itineraries and your first flight is canceled, there's no guarantee that the airline will refund your second flight. You might have to change your second flight -- and get stuck with a change fee. When you book an open jaw on one itinerary, you'll have more security knowing that the airline(s) will acknowledge both legs of your trip.
  2. An added stopover: Oftentimes, airlines let you book an open jaw and a stopover (or two) on a roundtrip award ticket. In most cases, you won't have that option with one-way award flights. What does a stopover plus an open jaw look like? You could depart from New York to Paris (as a stopover) on your way to Rome and return from Madrid to New York. One itinerary, four cities!
  3. Fewer fees: Aside from avoiding potential change fees, booking an open jaw can help you avoid extra fuel surcharges. On international flights, airlines often tack a fuel surcharge onto the price of your ticket, sometimes adding as much as $250. By booking a roundtrip ticket, you can avoid getting hit with those fees twice (or at all).

Generally, the only one reason to book two separate one-way flights is flexibility. If you're not sure how long you'll want to stay in a destination -- or if you think you might want to fly home from a different destination -- then one-way flights are your friend.

Ready to book stopovers and open jaws?

Some airlines, like Icelandair, will ask if you want to book a stopover or open jaw when you search for flights. With other airlines, it's more complicated.

Each carrier has different terms when it comes to which routes are eligible for open jaws and stopovers. If you earn frequent flyer miles with a particular airline -- or are looking at transferring miles to an airline -- it's well worth taking time to review your carrier’s policies. If you're unsure of how to book, it’s sometimes easiest to call in and book over the phone.

Johnny Jet is a travel blogger and expert who travels up to 150,000 miles and visits 20 countries every year. For more travel tips from Johnny, visit his blog.

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